Rhetoric Overwhelming

This is the logo for the Nazi party, which is what some people were drawing comparisons to the administration.  Courtesy of Google Imagesl.

This is the logo for the Nazi party, which is what some people were drawing comparisons to the administration. Courtesy of Google Imagesl.

As nearly all of us are aware by now, the Nazi Gestapo have invaded Southwestern and have begun a campaign of random room searches designed to search for illegal drugs. At least that was supposed to happen according to the flurry of statements presented by the student group protesting last week.

As it turns out, the school is not conducting random searches of dorm rooms and will not be executing students and professors for their religious, political or sexual preferences. Following last Friday’s forum on drug policy, the campus reaction has gone from a raging inferno to an eerie quiet. What happened? Wasn’t the Gestapo invading? Wasn’t Southwestern keeping a “black-list” of students? Apparently not.

While these claims were extremely unsettling and downright offensive to me and many other students and professors on campus, what is perhaps more offensive is the lack of any sort of remorse. A week later the protests are gone, but their comments remain.

Maybe this disregard for civility is indicative of a greater problem in society today. Civil communication includes responsibility, respect and restraint. In this past year a no-name South Carolina congressman made headlines for shouting “You lie!” in the middle of a speech given by the president.  Disgruntled Americans organized themselves into “tea-parties” and protested what they believed the Obama administration would be doing, such as creating death-panels for Grandma. Just like the campus Gestapo, I am yet to see any death-panels. The problem isn’t just a lack of understanding the facts (as demonstrated by the tea-parties and our valiant campus protests) but a complete lack of civility.

Uncivil communication in society motivated Christian Republican Mark DeMoss and his Jewish Democratic friend Lanny Davis to start “The Civility Project” (www.civilityproject.org). Both DeMoss and Davis were upset with the offensive rhetoric that was being thrown about from all corners of the political spectrum and longed for the return of civil debate and discussion. Their goals are simple: They want people to be civil in public discourse and behavior, to be respectful of others and to stand against incivility when it is seen. This has been sorely missing from society and our very own campus.

The “SS or SU?” Facebook event clearly displayed their rhetoric and had 74 confirmed guests and 68 replying that they would “maybe attend.”  The counter-group created to “encourage open dialogue and level-headed responses” only had 40 confirmed attend with 37 maybes.  That’s 142 to 77 – quite one sided. The group’s comments were offensive, their lack of apology is offensive too, but what scares me the most is how many students were so willing and even eager to side with them in the face of hurtful rhetoric.

When my grandfathers served in World War II, they didn’t fight for the right to smoke pot; They fought for the survival of both their lives and the lives of others. When the last World War II veteran dies, I hope that history will treat the sacrifices made by all veterans with more respect than our campus did.

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5 Responses to Rhetoric Overwhelming

  1. Ryan McDermott says:

    As you know, I absolutely despise emotional over-reaction to trivial matters. I’m glad you highlighted how absurd the SS-SU stuff was. Good article. The one place where we differ is that I don’t think that offhand social references to Nazism are at all related to the Holocaust. Most of the time when people talk about Hitler and the Gestapo it is more about personal rights than anything else. I understand you are offended and I’m sure other people are as well. I think instead of feeling offended by implicit references to the Holocaust, we should feel offended that smart college students jumped to conclusions without looking at the data first.

  2. Lane Hill says:

    I wasn’t offended by the rhetoric, but I was a bit angry because people jumped to conclusion without looking at the data, as McDermott says.

    As a result of the original Nazi-laced rhetoric email, I actually took the email less seriously than maybe I would if it was written a bit better. In fact, I thought the rhetoric was silly, something that a high schooler would do, not a college student. I still think the original writers of the email were simply trying to get attention the most flagrant way they could.

    Also Ryan – even if people refer to Gestapo and stuff in regards to personal rights, they are so ingrained with the idea of the holocaust that the mind is instantly connected there. That’s how the mind works – using information about one idea, we’re instantly drawn to another one.

  3. Ethan Lane-Miller says:

    What do you expect people to think about when someone references Nazi Germany? It would be like titling the e-mail “SU or Birmingham Police” and only expecting people to focus on the imagery or the brutal police crack-down and not the over-arching issue of denying basic civil rights to entire groups of people.

    I think it is important to look at this issue from the point of view of a minority. It may not seem offensive to one group, but it can end up being very hurtful to another.

  4. Michael Broz says:

    I appreciate your comment on the use of offensive and overly emotional language. I agree that the situation got out of hand. However, I think it is wrong to believe that since people joined the “SS or SU” event, that they automatically sided with everything that group believed in. I confirmed attendance to that event despite my belief in their language because I saw it as something I should do to better understand the situation.

    Also, it is foolish to think that since people are being quiet that they haven’t apologized. I personally emailed Dr. Leese an apology and a thanks for his openness. However, that didn’t make it all over facebook like some of the comments did.

    So, I think unless you asked the administration yourself (and there is no quote or mention made in the article of this), you cannot say we aren’t apologetic.

    On top of that, a large reason why there was so many nasty comments is a specific effect of the administration staying unnecessarily quiet about the facts up until the student forum.

  5. Ethan Lane-Miller says:

    Michael, thank you very much for that reply. I think you make some very good points. However, Mark DeMoss from The Civility Project would disagree with you. While your actions clearly demonstrated that you were civil in your public discourse and were respectful of others, you didn’t meet his third criterion for civility, which is to stand against incivility when it is seen.

    I’m sure that your private message to Dr. Leese was appreciated, but it didn’t do anything to confront the rhetoric as it happened. The adage “action speaks louder than words” comes to mind. It is not enough to think that something is wrong or to privately make amends for it; action is required. This is especially true when the comments were made in an extremely public fashion. While I think it is wonderful that you took the initiative to contact Dr. Leese, it didn’t do anything to actually combat the rhetoric that was being used.

    You’re also right in saying that you are no the only one who has apologised. When I attended the counter-protest some members of the SS or SU group did apologise to me for the rhetoric that was used by others, but they then returned to the group and did nothing about it. If it truly bothered them why didn’t they challenge those members? The only ones to truly challenge the rhetoric being used were not members of the group. No one challenged from within the SS or SU group itself. I do believe that people were bothered by the comments, but it is clear that they were not bothered enough to take action against it.

    And I do agree that the lack of information from the administration was unsettling, the comparisons to Nazi Germany were completely out of line and uncalled for. Students had a right to be upset over the apparent lack of information, but it doesn’t justify the comments that were made.

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